Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shock Without Awe

Get ready for a spectacle like no other.

It won’t be long before you will be witness to more political advertising, much of the negative, than a human being can be expected to tolerate.

Think that's an exaggeration? According to some estimates, $9.8 billion will be spend on political ads just this year.

It's sort of a legitimized form of electronic brainwashing. Or, if you wish shock without the awe.

The fact is, most people really don’t like political advertising.

It’s a steady diet of claims and counterclaims, appeals, distortions,
attacks and just plain dirt repeated over and over.

But while you can cover your eyes, plug your ears and try to look away, you
can’t hide.

In fact, according to a story in the New York Times, Mitt Romney’s
campaign thinks it has found a way to get its ads in front of the
increasing number of voters who are not watching traditional
television: Find these people online, and show them the ads there.

“The Romney campaign and a team of online behavior analysts have
spent 18 months…sifting through data on the browsing habits of tens
of millions of computer users as the campaign builds a richly
detailed cache of potential supporters,” the Times reported.

Not to be outdone, the Obama campaign is even most aggressive in trying to reach voters
online, so far spending more on Internet advertising than on
television, radio and telemarketing combined, according to the
Washington Post. Click on an Obama for President ad and it will
follow wherever your Internet search will carry you.

It is indeed a brave new world. But while the method might be
different, the madness remains the same. He who slings the most mud
usually wins.

So I got to wondering recently: Does this stuff really work? Do
Americans really cast their ballot on who has the slickest
commercials or nastiest attack ads?

Isn’t the media covering the presidential contest 24/7? Won’t there
be presidential candidate debates? Isn’t it essentially the same
message we had four years ago? And four years before that? Tax and
spend nanny state liberals versus government slashing conservatives
who coddle the rich and impose their moral views on others?

We’re not idiots. Why do we need to be inundated with billions of
dollars in attack ads that play fast and lose with the facts? A valid
question. Also, depending on whom you ask, an overly simplistic one.

According to academics, it simply comes down to this: negative
information is more memorable than positive.

Ruthann Weaver Laiscy, a University of Georgia professor, writing for CNN, put it this way:

“I often use an analogy of running water from my garden hose. If I
stand at the top of a smooth concrete driveway and turn on the water,
it flows quickly, directly, and fairly seamlessly to the bottom. This
is much how a positive message goes through the brain.
“If I take my same hose and stand at the top of a grassy hill and
turn it on, the water travels more slowly than on the concrete hill,
it picks up some loose dirt, and inevitably some of it gets "stuck"
in grass along the way.

“Negative information, too, travels more slowly because of its
enhanced complexity. It benefits from the negativity bias, and
inevitably some of that negative information gets "stuck" in our
minds, even if we don't like the ad or agree with its contents.”

Let’s see if I understand. So when I see my wife, instead of saying
,“you look nice tonight,” I say, “you look like you’ve put on a few
pounds,” I can expect that message to remain with her for a long,
long, time?

You bet. Apply that to political hit pieces and you get the picture.

But it doesn’t always work that way.

In the 2008 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, Republican incumbent
Elizabeth Dole attempted an attack ad on Democratic challenger Kay
Hagan by tying her to atheists.

Dole's campaign released an ad questioning Hagan's religion and it
included a voice saying "There is no God!" over a picture of Kay
Hagan's face. The voice was not Hagan's but the ad implied that it

Initially, it was thought the ad would work as that old time religion
has historically been a very important issue to voters in South.
But Hagan responded forcefully with an ad saying that she was a
Sunday school teacher and was a deeply religious person.

Hagan's small lead in polls doubled and she won the race by a nine
point margin.

The lesson? Be careful who and how you smear.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ted in the Weeds

Years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to get down into the
conversational mud with those who occupy the fringes of political

I clashed with Coulter, lambasted Limbaugh, berated Beck. I bashed
Bill O’Reilly and knocked Keith Olbermann.

Although it made splendid copy, I stopped. You can’t reason with
unreasonable people and all I was doing was pouring jet fuel onto the
inferno that is political discourse in this country.

More importantly, I was calling for civility while being uncivil

Today, I am a new man.


I am making an exception this week to dwell on the deeds and actions
of one Ted Nugent, a burned out rock star who spends his time these
days lying in the weeds while hunting deer with a crossbow.

You remember Ted. He had a hit record in 1977 called “Cat Scratch
Fever” about a man chronicling his long history of promiscuous sex.
It had a good beat and was easy to dance to.

Since then, he has emerged from his hunter/gatherer life style to
play mediocre rock ‘n’ roll and mouth audacious political statements,
most based on his fanatical belief in the right to brandish automatic
weapons and kill animals.

Nugent doesn’t just bear arms. He carries more weaponry than the
National Guard.

This endearing trait landed him on the dais of the National Rifle
Association’s annual convention recently where he whipped the already
paranoid crowd into a frenzy.

"I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year" if
President Obama is re-elected, Nugent declared to a gathering that
roared its approval. That line prompted a visit by the Secret Service
which doesn’t take threats against the President lightly.

In milder tones, Nugent said that the President is "vile," "evil" and

A few years back, Nugent exercised his First Amendment rights by
publicly declaring, “Obama, he’s a piece of s---, and I told him to
suck on my machine gun … Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of
these into the sunset, you worthless b---- … Any questions?

Which frames the level of discourse we can expect from a guy whose
testosterone level exceeds his IQ.

Why should we care?

Well, for one thing, Mr. Nugent is a board member of the NRA which I
presume means he speaks for its myriad members. For another, Mitt
Romney addressed the very same gun-totting conventioneers in an
attempt to garner their support.

Is Romney reaching out to the likes of Ted Nugent? Apparently so.

In his speech, Romney promised to defend the Second Amendment and
attacked President Obama for “employing every imaginable ruse and
ploy” to restrict gun rights, which Romney pledged not to do if
elected in November.

For the record, Obama has barely mentioned gun control in his four
years in office. In fact, his supporters are critical of him for not
taking a stronger anti-gun stance. He has said that he supports the Second Amendment but also backs
local gun control ordinances such as the one that exists --- for good
reason --- in Washington, D.C.

For his part, Romney, campaigning for the Senate in 1994, said he
favored strong gun laws and did not “line up with the NRA.” He then
signed up for “lifetime membership” of the NRA in August 2006 while
pondering a presidential run, praising the group for “doing good
things” and “supporting the right to bear arms.”

That’s Mitt. He has more positions than a yoga master.

But it makes little difference. The NRA wouldn’t support Obama if he
appeared before them dressed like Rambo and shot out the lights with
a Glock 19.

It demonstrates the lengths the Romney campaign will go to in an
effort to attract conservatives to their cause. He needs them to win
and from here on out, his campaign will embrace them in a bear hug.

The NRA? Hell, yes, pass me some ammo.

There is some irony here. I doubt if Nugent has ever been invited
over to the Romney mansion to swap life stories with Mitt, Ann and
the boys.

I suspect if the Romneys ever saw Nugent coming up their driveway, a
Bowie knife clinched in his teeth, an AK-47 at the ready and froth
forming on his mouth, they’d call security.

Right after they secured his endorsement.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Red Meat

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for carnivores.

First, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health released a
study they said showed red meat consumption could lead to an early

In fact, they contended, adding just one 3-ounce serving of red meat
daily (picture a steak the size of a smart phone) was associated with
a 13 per cent greater chance of dying during the 20-year course of
the study.

Wolf down a hot dog or two slices of bacon daily and it rises to a 20
per cent higher risk of death.

About the same time, scientists in Spain determined that fast food
consumers, compared to those who eat little or none, are 51 per cent
more likely to develop depression.

And in the midst of all this, ABC News revealed that that 70 percent
of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets contained an additive called
“pink slime.”

It’s actually been around for a dozen years. But you’ve never heard
of it because the meat industry prefers to call it “boneless lean
beef trimmings” which sounds like it should be served with a good

All this news hit America right in its paunchy solar plexus.

We love our steaks, our brisket, our burgers so big that the juices
run down our forearms and drip off our elbows.

Along with gun ownership, red meat and fast food consumption is as
American as apple pie (411 calories, 19 grams of fat per serving).

So what has the reaction been?

--- The California Angels baseball team unveiled an assortment of new
food items for the upcoming season including a deep-fried hot dog, a
bacon-wrapped hot dog and a hot dog topped with barbecued beef.

--- A billboard on River Highway in North Carolina not only shows a
gigantic piece of steak on an even more giant fork, but it actually
pumps out the smell of steak for passing drivers to sniff.

--- The Jack in the Box folks have insulted our collective
intelligence with a TV commercial in which a geek tells his mother he
is getting married. “Who’s the girl?” she asks. He replies, “ It’s
not a girl, it’s bacon.” This is all by way of promoting the chains’
BLT cheeseburger (649 calories, 36 grams of fat).

The conclusion of the ad takes place at the altar where a minister
proclaims “You may eat the bride.” Pretty funny if you’re in the
third grade.

(An aside: if you do an Internet search for marry bacon, you come up
with a fitness expert named Mary Bacon in Australia who must be less
than amused with the ad campaign).

--- Burger King is experimenting with home delivery. Right now, you
can get a Whopper sped to your front door in certain areas of the
Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Don’t forget the 20 per cent tip.

--- Burger King is also going public, offering shares for trade on
the New York Stock Exchange. Before you dump your 401k savings into
this stock, consider its very name connotes dubious eating habits.

---Sonic Drive-in is offering a bacon double cheeseburger that weighs
in at 1280 calories and 92 grams of fat.

The Harvard study will undoubtedly cause great glee among cows,
vegans and the National Chicken Council.

But while many of us are eating smarter, it’s not easy to go cold
turkey. Red meat and fast food may be bad for us but we consume it
anyway, driven in part by a constant barrage of advertising that
shows happy, healthy, slim Americans gleefully engaged in a
cholesterol orgy. They look like members of the Future Heart Attack
Victims of America.

Besides, eating almost anything can be dangerous to your health.
Consider: 300,000 pounds of Colorado cantaloupes were recalled
recently because of listeria; a salmonella outbreak in 19 states is
being traced to sushi; 36 million pounds of ground turkey were
recalled last year in a salmonella outbreak.

So what to do? You can live in a cave and make your own jerky. Or you
can shop smart and avoid excess in all things.

If that doesn’t appeal, consider this: A company named J&D Foods in
Seattle, puveryors of things like bacon lip balm, is offering a bacon
coffin for $2,999.99 plus shipping.

The coffin is not actually made of coffin but painted to look like
it. Inside, is a bacon air freshener.

Bon apetite.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Six Months to Go

A political snapshot, Spring 2012:

It’s six months until we elect a President of the United States.

It appears the brawl that is the Republican primary
has resulted in so many body blows that the last candidate standing
has been permanently damaged.

But not so. It’s like pro wrestling. Nobody really gets hurt.

Political memory is too short. No one will remember the nasty things
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum said to and about each other this fall
when the presidential race gets down to the bell lap.

And who will the GOP candidate be? The drama here is almost at an
end. Romney has a large delegate lead, a well-oiled machine, money,
endorsements and the backing of the party establishment.

It is also apparent that nothing he says or does will mollify the
conservative wing of the party. Conservatives don’t like him and he
spends three times as much money as Santorum to win a vote, not
exactly an endearing statistic.

Santorum soldiers on, perhaps to influence party philosophy, perhaps
in hopes of becoming Romney’s running mate.

Don’t laugh. Romney needs a social conservative to unite a splintered
party if he wants to win in November.

If it’s not Santorum, it will be another representative of the GOP’s
right flank.

But it won’t be Newt Gingrich. You would have thought by now that
Gingrich would have retired from the race, saving what’s left of his

Instead, he has dumped a third of his staff and is now
charging his supporters $50 to have their pictures taken with him.

It’s political panhandling. All you can do is avert your eyes and
walk away.

The Associated Press reported that Gingrich plans to spend much less
time in primary states and instead personally call delegates to try
to persuade them to back him at the Republican National Convention in

“We are not going to cede to Mitt Romney’s strategy to take the party
down,” said a Gingrich spokesman. Ultimately, Gingrich would take the
fight to the convention floor, he said.

GOP unity seems to be a work in progress.

So it looks like clear sailing for President Obama, right? All he
has to do is remain presidential, appear above the fray, and watch
the Republican Party collapse in on itself, like a black hole in deep

Wrong. An incumbent president can find himself on thin political ice.
Just ask George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford. Any upheaval
foreign or domestic can seriously hinder reelection chances.

Right now, Upheaval No. 1 for the Obama Administration is health
care. The Supreme Court is determining the constitutionality of the
Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare if you will.

Whether the Court dumps the whole thing, parts of it or returns the
whole package to Congress for a rewrite, there is no good solution
for the Democrats.

Having a major legislative initiative declared unconstitutional is
not a plus in the political playbook.

Indeed, the Court’s conservative justices just might declare the
entire act invalid and since they make up the majority, it seems a
real possibility.

All of which raises an interesting issue. A majority of Americans have
indicated in polls that they don’t much care for Obamacare, even
though they voted for Mr. Obama and health care reform was a major
plank in his platform.

So the American voter is fickle. What else is new?

But a Bloomberg poll conducted earlier this month found that “an
overwhelming majority of Americans think that the Supreme Court
justices’ political views will influence how they vote on the Obama
health care reform” challenge.

So a Constitutional issue becomes a political one. If health care
reform is rejected by the justices, the President could choose to be
portrayed as a martyr, a man whose vision for America has been
trampled under the boot heel of a politicized Supreme Court.

Sound extreme? Nothing is out of play when the White House is at

Would the death of Obamacare be a cause for GOP celebration?

Sure. But not a very raucous one. If Romney is indeed the Republican
candidate, voters will be reminded that he passed a health care
reform measure while governor of Massachusetts that was almost
identical to the Affordable Care Act.

Thus, any criticism of Obamacare could be turned back against him.

It will be an interesting six months.